Earlier this week, the fine Andy Staples over at Sports Illustrated penned quite the manifesto about how television changed the game of college football. It is one of the must reads of the year, as it is a history lesson that fans need and a glimpse into the minutiae that many folks often gloss over.
The history is interesting, but where the game is headed is the true observation from Staples' piece, as Burke Magnus, ESPN's senior vice president for college sports programming, is quoted speaking about the importance of technology:
It's the most important thing. The reason we're able to do deals of that length with college conferences is that they're willing to sell us the rights to exploit the content across all technologies whether we know of them now or whether they come halfway through the term.
That's the selling point here—and the point that will loom large in the future.
Right now, as it stands, live television is the only true seller in television from an advertisement standpoint. The rise of DVR, On Demand programming, Hulu, Netflix and the like have created an atmosphere where fewer people are watching programming on the first run. Live sports, especially football, are the networks' only true chance to get an audience sitting, watching commercials and captive to the advertisers.
As television—and more importantly, programming consumption methods—advances, the landscape will shift. The online medium is still less than utilized by the casual sports fan; cable and satellite still reign supreme in that vein. However, in the future, as televisions become increasingly more Internet-friendly and the line between what is television and what is online media becomes more blurred, the fluidity between the two will continue to grow.
That's the television side of things. On the football side, things are less staked into consumption mediums and more built around how to bolster asking prices. As Staples points out, there is one frontier that has yet to be crossed in more than just the postseason capacity for college football:
The NFL rakes in such huge sums because it is a single seller. It is the only entity selling elite professional football. There are five sellers (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC) of elite college football. That holds prices down somewhat. Will those leagues someday merge and sell their media rights as a single entity for an even more astronomical sum? They did it as the BCS for postseason games, and they'll do it again with the playoff.
A single seller seems almost impossible in college football. The goals of the Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, SEC and Big Ten are rarely ever aligned—except when there is money to be made. A single-seller philosophy would most certainly make that money.
The leagues have already partnered up in multiple capacities. The BCS postseason partnership. The playoff rights to be shopped as a package deal. The Pac-12 and Big Ten working to sell the Rose Bowl for $80 million. The Big 12 and SEC working to sell the Champions Bowl for $80 million.
The ability to work together is there. It is a matter of how much money it takes before the leagues see the value of their strength coming in working together. As the leagues are separating themselves through the playoff and the individual bowl deals, look for the cash to steer the ship—as it has for quite some time now.